Thursday, December 8, 2011

Guest Blogger Robert McNeil Finding Time to Write!

I met Robert on Twitter. We shared a few tweets and I approached him and asked if he would be interested in doing a guest appearance here on the Write Time. He agreed, but he was off to Hong Kong.

Well it was worth wait, here is what he put together for us. Thanks for taking the opportunity to share with all of us here, Robert.


A big question for many beginning writers is, "How do you find time to write?"

I've read advice by some seasoned writers who advise disciplining yourself to write a certain number of hours each day, or turn out a certain number of words each session. If that works for them, that's great. I know that approach would not work for me.

My problem is, I have never had time to write. I don't live a leisurely life where I can sit for hours at the computer crafting beautiful stories. In my "day job" I'm a conference speaker and dean of a graduate school. I also spend a lot of my time traveling.

For most of my adult life, a typical work week has been 70 or 80 hours. Every week! And there's always been more to do than I have time to accomplish.

I'm not complaining. I love what I do! I teach, I travel, and I speak. But it's a very demanding career.

Yet I've also had a strong urge to write. I always seem to have 4-5 books simmering on the back burner of my mind, just waiting for the time they can make their escape onto a printed page.

My first non-fiction book was written on vacation. The book had been burning inside me for months. So while my wife and kids relaxed and visited with family and friends, I sat with laptop open, writing.

My second book found its way to paper while I was stranded for two weeks on the Island of Cyprus, waiting for a kidney stone to pass (not a fun experience!) I didn't even have a laptop along, so I sat on the terrace of our friends' home, overlooking the beautiful Troodos mountains of Cyprus, typing my book on a PDA (remember those?) using a portable fold-up keyboard! (Turned out to be one of my best sellers!)

For me, writing always has had a pregnancy aspect. I have a book on the inside and it's growing and developing, looking for a time it can be birthed. And when that time finally comes, there's no holding it back.

Because of that, I find it hard to relate to statements from writers who have to discipline themselves to write a certain number of words a day. To me, writing is not a job or a chore. It's an all-consuming passion. It's not a task I must remember to do, like cutting the grass and cleaning the garage. The book growing within me becomes a living thing, demanding to be expressed on paper, threatening to explode if I don't let it out.

Let me share how I wrote Iona Portal, my first fiction book. Iona Portal is a Science Fiction thriller that views the ancient battle between good and evil through the lens of Science Fiction. I like to think of it as Lord of the Rings meets The Matrix. (As of this writing, it's the top-rated science fiction book on Amazon, and rated #2 for mysteries and thrillers.)

At the start of the project, I had a vague idea of what the book would be about, but not a clue as to any details.

I started with the characters. I wrote a biography of each one, formed a mental picture of what each one looked like. I even scoured the internet to find photographs of people that matched my mental picture of each one.

These people became more than names on a page. I knew their strengths and weaknesses, their struggles and fears... even what their voices sounded like. I knew them so well, I'd be walking through an airport and see someone walking the other way and think... "She looks just like Lys Johnston!" In short, these characters became real people to me. I CARED what happened to them.

Stephen King once said, "I try to develop sympathy for my characters, then I turn the monsters loose!" That was my next step.

Once I had the characters, I let the action start. Iona Portal begins with a gripping scene where our strong female lead, Lys Johsnton, finds herself driving a narrow mountain road in the middle of the night pursued by two strangers with blood-lust in their eyes.

I wrote the first version of that chapter with no idea where the story was going. Lys Johnston was in a dire situation., but I cared about her, and willed her to survive.

In the next scene, I added the next character. The characters began to interact. Then, as the story progressed, the direction of the book became clear. More characters were added, and "the plot thickened!" How would these people manage to survive and save their world from disaster?

And so the story gripped me. It burned within me. I didn't have to schedule times to crank out words.

I'd often wake up at 3 in the morning with the next part of the story running through my mind. I'd get up, turn on gas logs in the fireplace, pour myself a coffee, then lean back in my recliner ... and write. I had no choice! Lys Johnston needed me! She had to find a way to overcome the armies of darkness and save the planet from destruction!!!

So that's my advice for time management for writers. Don't allow your writing to become a mechanical chore. Don't let it be a job or an obligation.

It has to be a passion! If the story doesn’t grip you enough to draw you back to write, how will it ever draw your readers back to read?

So, be excited about what you are doing. Be passionate. And the time to write will come.

Find more about Robert David MacNeil at his website,

Find Robert's book, Iona Portal at


Dean C. Rich said...

Thanks for the post Robert. I've enjoyed having you as a guest.

Karen said...

Oh wow, that was a great post. I feel the same way. The characters scream to come out and you have to sit down and let them dictate their story through you. Thanks for writing this. I found it encouraging.